Prices in the art world hit new highs in 2017.
In May, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) took $110.5m at Sotheby’s New York, a new record for an American artist at auction, closely followed by the confirmation of the sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 Masterpiece which took $165m as the result of a private sale.
Then, the crowning event came in November as Christie’s sold Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for a premium-inclusive $450m.
But buying even top-quality art does not require such spending. Richard Green, the venerable New Bond Street dealership, looks to prove this point with its first exhibition of the year, 50 Paintings under £50,000, which opens on January 17.
In this show, a first-time concept for the gallery, pieces priced between £5000-50,000 are pitched to attract first-time buyers. “The idea is to encourage start-up collections with our extensive range of paintings,” says gallery director Penny Marks.
It is indeed a chance for the gallery to show the breadth of its offerings, which include portraits, sporting scenes, still-lifes and genre paintings by recognisable names including John Atkinson Grimshaw, Walter Richard Sickert, Archibald Thorburn and Patrick Heron.
“Richard Green personally selected this group of paintings,” Marks adds of the gallery’s doyen who first established the business in 1955. “This is a fresh group of pictures which reflects our focus on quality, price and condition.”
Saintes comes marching in
Among the highlights is a large maritime painting, The Battle of the Saintes, 12th April 1782, which shows the final naval action of the American War of Independence in the sugar islands of the West Indies.
The 2ft 2in x 4ft (66cm x 1.21m) painting is by the English maritime artist Thomas Whitcombe (c.1752-1824), who depicts the Formidable, British Admiral Sir George Rodney’s flagship, engaging with the Comte de Grasse’s 110-gun Ville de Paris. The battle resulted in a much-heralded victory, saving Jamaica from invasion.
Whitcombe is thought to have embarked on the painting in 1782, just after news of the victory reached London, and based the scene on accounts he heard from participants. It is one of several scenes of the battle at different stages that he created, two of which are in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
This piece comes from a private UK collection and is offered for £45,000.
Each picture comes framed and many sport grand provenances, previously part of corporate collections, hung in stately homes or deaccessioned from public institutions. Some were once in the collections of Harrods, Mark Birley, Evelina Rothschild and Richard Attenborough.
With this show, the gallery looks to put its best foot forward for the year ahead. In 2018, Marks says, the dealership plans to continue hunting out top-quality paintings from across the globe, with the aim of helping to build public and private collections and to encourage new collectors.